By David Salman, High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturist
Asters are a huge genus of wildflowers native all across the northern hemisphere, including North American, Europe, and Asia. For thousands of years, these flowers were called Asters around the globe, derived from the Greek word for 'star'. Recently, North American Asters were re-named with the botanical name Symphyotrichum, to differentiate them from European and Asian Asters.
Here in North America, our native species and improved native selections of Asters are late-summer and fall bloomers. This makes them an integral part of the food chain for native bees, honeybees, butterflies, and migrating Monarchs. Their late-season blooms are an essential food source for some of our favorite pollinators as they fuel up for winter hibernation or winter migration. They also provide late-season color, keeping our gardens and landscapes beautiful and interesting well through fall. You can even leave them standing for early winter interest.
There are many fine species, selections, and hybrids from Europe and Asia, but these tend to be spring and early summer bloomers.
Outstanding native Asters are often overlooked when gardeners shop for perennial flowers. Perhaps it's because they aren't in bloom in the spring when many folks do their flower shopping. But I can say with confidence that the late-season Asters are worth seeking out for their easy-to-grow nature, their beauty in bloom, and their essential role in habitat creation for pollinators.
Asters are at home in both natural meadow-style plantings and perennial borders. Planted in large swaths, they can create a pollinator buffet that makes fueling up for fall easy for flying friends.